Yeasayer interview

They may draw on an eclectic range of influences but Yeasayer’s Luke Fasano tells us why his band are really just a pop group

Bursting forth last year with their debut single 2080, Yeasayer merge sounds from around the world with Western pop music, creating something fresh and exciting that has captured the heart of many a music fan. Their debut album, All Hour Cymbals, was released in November to high acclaim.

The band was formed by school friends Chris Keating and Anand Wilder in 2005. Quickly inducting Wilder’s cousin Ira Wolf Tuton on bass, the band played for a year, experimenting with live drums, drum machine and iPod to provide percussion before hiring Luke Fasano to complete the line up. However, the drummer had reservations about joining after the band attempted to explain their sound to him.

“They described it to me like, ‘Well it’s like this world music, hip hop influenced, kind of like Indian, Gospel, Asian, you know, pop, it’s pop music.’ I was like, wow, this could be the most terrible thing that I’ve ever heard,” says Fasano. But the description was enough to at least peak his interest. “I listened to what they were doing and I was immediately like, okay yes, I wanna do that.”

So, it’s clear from the outset that this was not an easy band to pitch, but Fasano insists that the key to Yeasayer’s success is down to a love of good, old-fashioned pop music.

“That was what they told me from the get-go. We all listen to pop radio and we all try to draw as many other things into that as possible because who wants to hear the same song you’ve heard for the past twenty years?” Explaining the Yeasayer ethos, he continues, “We’re trying to take all those elements that would make an interesting pop song that are in some Iraqi folk song, or in some Moroccan song, or West African song, or Indian song. These can be a Western pop song, there’s no reason why they can’t.”

When he speaks about his and the rest of the band’s musical influences, it’s clear the passion that Fasano has for music. Sitting in a well-worn Velvet Underground T-shirt, he talks excitedly about everyone from Pixies to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. It’s this genuine love of music that led him to seek sounds from outside his own cultural background.

“You grow up here or in the States and you hear a lot of Western pop music and so the second I heard all that it was just crazy – what is that sound? What’s making that sound? What is he hitting? What is he playing? All these people are really doing it as part of their own culture and it was really exciting for me to hear a kind of music that I had not heard, just the thrill of the unknown.”

Being able to absorb all this and work it into something that is relevant to them and their listeners, rather than their music being, as Fasano puts it, “some white guy who’s been there playing it for me” is key to their sound. “None of us are pretending to be members of those cultures – hopefully people don’t think that we think we’re part of that,“ he says. “But it’s just music, so you can borrow from it, you know, if I’ve been affected by it, I can borrow from it.”

And with such a wide array of music available to borrow from, the band are already stockpiling new music. “Honestly, this group of people is really the most musically ambitious group that, I think, any of us have ever had the pleasure to work with,” explains Fasano. “Everyone has written material for the next album, enough to have two albums already. It’s very prolific. I’ll write something on keyboard or Chris will put something together on his computer. Ira will write guitar parts, as well as clarinet and saxophone parts. Anand plays the cello and like five different things, he can kinda play everything. Then we take samples of other things and just put as dense layering as we think the song will support.”

With such an array of sounds on their recordings, performing the songs live does mean the band have their work cut out. Fasano explains, “There’s just four of us, but everyone is singing – I do the backing vocals and the three across the front are pretty much always doing harmonies. Chris ends up doing some main vocals, but then he’s also playing a keyboard and a sampler. Ira has about ten different pedals for his bass, sometimes it sounds like he’s playing a flute and sometimes it’s like an organ. Anand has a keyboard and a sampler, as well as his guitar. Then I have the drum set and an electronic drum pad, which is a sampler, as well. So, we’re all doing two or three different things.”

Despite this, Yeasayer are keen to give their audience something special live and have various different versions of each of their songs to choose from each night. “We still rewrite our songs to play them live,” says Fasano. “When I see a band live and there’s no change I’m sort of like, well why did I come here today? You don’t feel like there’s any interaction between the artist and the audience.”

On paper, Yeasayer’s mix of so many different sounds may seem confusing, but the music does the talking. Because of this, word of mouth support has always been important for the band and has brought them a great deal of success. The speed by which news of this band can spread was apparent on the band’s first trip to the UK.

“We did just London the first time we came over, which was really weird but a great experience. We were here for maybe a week and a half and played seven or eight shows and things got better every time we played. By the end [we played] a couple of sold out shows.”

Add the internet into that mix and suddenly there’s an audience of millions, rather than hundreds. Fasano is very positive about the power of the World Wide Web to break new bands. “I’m not a big blogging, internet kind of person, but it’s undeniable the impact of that. I mean, I basically joined the band, they had just put stuff up on MySpace and then within a month we were signed to a label. Just being on MySpace is such a great tool. It’s not a totally equal playing field but it does equalize some of those forces.”

Moving onto the subject of how this is changing the music industry, he continues, “It’s just a different paradigm; the music business is really changing. Really large labels are losing their legs a little bit. I love that all these big powerhouse labels are just getting fucked because they’ve had such a stranglehold on the industry.”

At the same time, he’s careful not to get caught up in the hyperbole that precedes bands in the MySpace generation. “I don’t have a good perspective on this, none of us do,” he says. “When people are like ‘There’s a buzz’ or ‘You’re blowing up’ or whatever we’re like, ‘Huh? I’m still poor!’” He laughs.

They may not be rich yet, but with a punishing tour schedule and an outstanding album in the bag, things can only keep getting bigger and better for Yeasayer.

The album, All Hour Cymbals is out now on We Are Free. A new version of Wait For The Summer has also just been released as a single.

This interview originally appeared on Subba Cultcha. An edited version also appeared in ThreeWeeks‘ Brighton Festival edition in May 2008

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